Remarks by the Chair of the Pacific ACP states, the Prime Minister of Tuvalu, H.E. Honourable Kausea Natano
1st Extraordinary Onter-Sessional Summit of Heads of State and Government of the OACPS on ‘Transcending the COVID-19 Pandemic: Building Resilience through Global Solidarity’ [Held Virtually]
3 June 2020
His Excellency, President Uhuru Kenyatta – Chair of the Summit; Distinguished Heads of State and Government of the Organisation of the African, Caribbean and Pacific States (OACPS); the Presidents and Prime Ministers of our key Development Partners; Heads of Development and Technical Agencies; Excellencies and dear colleagues. It is my privilege to speak on behalf of the Pacific ACP States, and contribute to today’s discussion.
We are living in unprecedented times where we must stand together in solidarity and face the challenges presented to us. The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted us all.
The Blue Pacific region has registered close to 9000 cases of COVID-19 with over 100 deaths thus far. Of the fifteen Pacific ACP States, only two have reported cases of COVID-19 patients, with no related fatalities. As the COVID-19 pandemic threatened the Pacific region, we were quick in closing our borders, taking precautionary measures for the safety of our populations, and preventing a public health catastrophe. We are saddened by the global loss of life, and convey our condolences and prayers to those affected.
PACIFIC HUMANITARIAN PATHWAY
Excellencies, we need to maintain our resolve in the fight against the COVID-19 crisis.
In my role as the Chair of the Pacific Islands Forum, and to provide a coordinated collective response to the COVID-19 crisis, I activated an important Pacific regional instrument for joint security, the Biketawa Declaration. The Biketawa Declaration recognises that in time of crises, all actions must be taken on the basis that all Members of the Forum are part of the Pacific Islands extended family.
On 7 April 2020, the Foreign Ministers of the Pacific Islands Forum established the Pacific Humanitarian Pathway for COVID-19 (PHP-C). The Pacific Humanitarian Pathway is overseen by a Ministerial Action Group and supported by a Regional Taskforce. It works with, and complements, existing health and coordination mechanisms in the region.
The Pacific Humanitarian Pathway ensures political coordination on COVID-19. Members’ requests for medical and humanitarian assistance are addressed in a timely, safe, and effective manner, and national efforts are not undermined.
To date the Pathway has facilitated delivery of testing kits, Personal Protective Equipment and ventilators to the Pacific. As we work to re-start our economies, Forum protocols are in development for the movement of freight and passengers. These protocols will support greater certainty on how COVID-19 risks will be minimised.
Closing our borders allowed the Pacific region to contain the spread of COVID-19, but this has come at great cost to our economies. Many businesses have closed, and our Pacific islands that rely so heavily on tourism are suffering. Recession is anticipated region-wide.
Excellencies, our already challenged economies are under great strain, and unless multilateral support is provided, some of our economies may collapse.
We need to invest in our health systems as a matter of urgency; equipping nations with Test & Trace capacity, and investing in more hospital beds and intensive care facilities. In addition to caring for local populations, our many tourism dependent economies need these health facilities to manage a resurgence of COVID-19. These investments are an absolute necessity, and I call on the international community to assist as a matter of priority. In addition, the development of a vaccine to prevent and medication to treat COVID-19 is of crucial importance.
Now, more than ever, a coordinated and effective response is necessary to stimulate development. Cross-border solutions may be necessary as many of our economies are small.
We need the support of the development partners and multilateral funding agencies to access financial resources and set up stimulus packages for economic growth. We join the international call for innovative solutions to address debt relief and debt sustainability.
The vulnerability of our Blue Pacific to COVID-19 is compounded by our vulnerability to climate change. While responding to the pandemic, four of the Pacific ACP States (Fiji, Solomon Islands, Tonga and Vanuatu) were hit by a severe tropical cyclone in April 2020, causing major damage and loss of life.
Excellencies, climate change remains the biggest crisis facing humanity in the long term. Let me take this opportunity to urge the international community not to lose sight of this reality. The COVID-19 public health emergency and its ensuing humanitarian and economic fallout offers the world a glimpse of what the global climate change emergency can become – if it is left unchecked and if ambitious action is not taken now.
The COVID-19 crisis has exacerbated the persistent vulnerabilities and dependencies that continue to challenge our development. As we design our responses to this crisis, we must consider climate-smart response and recovery measures. We need to shape national economies and societies in ways that are healthy, clean, safe and more resilient. In the Pacific region, given our heavy dependence on imports, a concerted effort is being made to support sustainable agricultural economies, particularly small holder and backyard farming.
We need to strengthen inclusiveness, improving gender and youth participation when designing our solutions, and increase the involvement of the rural communities in shaping our development. We must not let the COVID-19 crisis hinder progress on the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals. Let me conclude by saying we have to build resilience through global solidarity.
It is important for OACPS, an organisation of seventy-nine States, to promote our values of solidarity and collaboration, especially in these times of crisis. This week marks 45 years of our existence as the ACP Group. We have supported each other in times of need over the past decades, and our development partners have also stepped up to assist us when we needed them. We need that solidarity to continue, now more than ever.